Maverick Citizen


Citywide Nelson Mandela Bay blackout averted as electricians’ go-slow resolved

Citywide Nelson Mandela Bay blackout averted as electricians’ go-slow resolved
Nelson Mandela Bay residents were spared from rolling blackouts after the metro‘s electricity staff went on a go-slow. Above, Brittany Cannel from Pier Pressure artisan shop at work during a rolling blackout. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

A go-slow by electricians at the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality provided two blackout-free days to residents, but this led to urgent negotiations with Eskom to avoid the power utility implementing a citywide electrical shutdown. The electricians’ go-slow came to an end on Wednesday evening when the labour dispute was resolved.

A go-slow by electricians, starting on Tuesday, 27 September, led to a two-day respite from power cuts for the Eastern Cape’s biggest metro. Nelson Mandela Bay is home to about 1.5 million people.

On Thursday, local politicians expressed their relief that the labour dispute had been resolved, saying the metro would have faced a citywide blackout through forced load shedding if they had not resumed their own staged approach.

Mayco Member for Corporate Services, Annette Lovemore, said the go-slow was triggered by unhappiness over the termination of a scarce skills grant and overtime payments.

She said the dispute had been sparked by a letter sent to staff in the metro’s electricity department that their scarce skill allowances would come to an end in three months.

That letter, Lovemore added, had since been withdrawn.

She said the scarce skill allowances were not universally awarded, meaning that not everyone with the same qualifications and skills received them. An agreement had been reached for talks on the grant.

On overtime, Lovemore said the unions had demanded that overtime pay for planned work was separated from that for emergency work, and that no cap be put on overtime for employees higher than Grade 12. She said they had agreed to reconsider their views on overtime.

Meanwhile, rolling blackouts resumed on Wednesday evening after the electricians agreed to go back to work. 

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Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said Eskom did not “threaten” people, but was “able to assist any municipality that is unable to conduct its own load shedding”.

He explained that this can be done from the power utility’s inland control centre.

Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Retief Odendaal said rolling blackout schedules for the metro were under review as the power cuts were having a heavy impact on the economy. Nelson Mandela Bay is home to several large motor vehicle and component manufacturers. 

Odendaal said that after Eskom had been alerted that rolling blackouts were not being implemented in the metro, it took a lot of engagement to stop the utility from instituting a citywide blackout.

“We will also be investigating renewable energy solutions to generate our own power and purchase electricity from independent power producers. We will also be engaging with high energy consumers to explore alternative power solutions,” he said.

Mayco Member for Electricity and Energy, Lance Grootboom, said it was important to break the city’s dependence on Eskom. “That will become a major priority.”

He said the theft of electricity was also a huge problem in the metro and that they would extend an amnesty period for the next months for those who wished to regularise their illegal electricity connections.

Grootboom said the metro had lost about R800-million due to stolen electricity, in comparison with R600-million last year. 

He said the electricity department had several critical vacancies that needed to be filled. He had met staff members who were bearing the brunt of these unfilled posts. 

Grootboom said vandalism of electrical substations also remained a worrying problem. DM/MC


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